I honestly struggle with what to write for the first part of chapter 7. It’s all stuff that presumably advances the plot, but there’s not much to say about it.
Hank calls his predecessor at Ashton Community, Pastor James Ferrel, who moved far away from Ashton after being ousted from the church. Notably, he finds the number in the church records but it appears to be his home number; how many people keep their number, including a local area code, when they move across the country? That strikes me as a little odd.
Farrel apparently keeps up with town gossip, as he knows exactly who Hank is. Farrel claims “there’s a lot I could say to you”; he begins with the fact that Brummel, Turner, Mayer, and Stanley were the ones who voted him out in a congregational meeting much like the one Hank faces next Friday. He then goes on to ask if it’s true Lou Stanley was “put out of fellowship”; Hank confirms that that was his doing.
I don’t really have any experience in this area, so I’m not entirely sure what that means or how one goes about doing it to someone. Presumably it means he was kicked out of the church; the earlier conversation on page 24 mentions adultery (You can get kicked out of church for cheating on your wife? That’s really a thing outside of Catholicism? I’ve never heard of it happening before in a Protestant-derived church). Interestingly, the earlier conversation also mentions the following process:
“We did just what the Bible says: I went to Lou, then John and I went to Lou, and then we brought it before the rest of the church, and then we, well, we removed him from the fellowship.”
Earlier, I joked about Leviticus and the euphemistic qualities of “removing him from fellowship”, but I’m genuinely curious as to how that works. The congregation voted to kick him out, it seems to be implying, and yet Farrel lays the blame solely on Hank’s shoes. Is this just “You mentioned it, your fault”? I can see that sort of guilt-by-association taking place, except that there seems to be the implication that the congregation is unhappy with Hank because of it. They had a vote. Shouldn’t that mean the majority of them were fine with this? In which case, why is he concerned about being kicked out himself?
Hank thinks the congregation “could be pretty evenly divided”, so maybe I’m over-thinking this and it’s as simple as it was a very slim margin and many people have changed their mind thanks to the Gang of Four.
Then we get to the crux of the matter: Hank was “accidentally” voted in by the congregation where the Gang of Four had intended to place a more “liberal” pastor. It was “some kind of organizational fluke”, which means “Angels did it” and not “I don’t understand how voting works” in this context. Farrel’s advice? No matter how the upcoming vote goes, Hank should skip town. And possibly the priesthood altogether – Farrel makesa point of saying he’s “not a pastor”.
Farrel is scared on Hank’s behalf. He tells the new pastor that he has no idea what he’s up against, the kind of pressure that can be brought to bear against him:
It cost me my home, my reputation, my health, it almost cost my my marriage. I left Ashton literally planning on changing my name.
I wonder if he was accused of being a pedophile too?
Hank replies with talk about how this is his calling, about how this is “what the gospel is all about, fighting Satan” (I thought it was about Love Thy Neighbor and Christ is Risen? Silly me, it’s obviously “all about” spiritual warfare). Farrel tells him again that this is only the beginning. Nowhere in this does Hank have a plan, or have any way of preventing harm from coming to his family; if I were him, I’d send my wife on a nice long vacation if I were determined to stay myself. Instead, he prays, and God sends him on a walk.
Now, we know he’s being guarded by angels, but again, he has no idea he has protection from the evil forces gathering here. I’ll deal with the next passage in a later post, as I feel it deserves a post to itself, but I personally can’t relate to this at all. I’d be beside myself in his shoes: I’d need to have a plan of action, and even if I couldn’t fix the big problems (like demonic infestation), I’d be out there talking to members of the congregation, bringing over casseroles, finding out what’s got them unsettled about this and seeing if I can’t put their mind at ease. I’d be finding out as much as possible about what the four men who want me gone are actually after, see if compromise can’t be reached. I’d be reaching out to the Stanleys, making suggestions about couple’s counseling to work through their deeper issues. I’d pour through any tomes on spiritual warfare and demonology I could find. I’d be doing something. Sitting around waiting for bad things to happen has never been something I’ve been really capable of; it frustrates me to watch Hank just sort of… wander around waiting for God to give him express instructions. But then, I’ve never been a Christian, not truly in my heart. I gave up on being acceptable to the Judeo-Christian God pretty much as soon as I was old enough to reason what was being asked of me, to realize how bad a fit Christianity was to me as a person. This is one of the major stumbling blocks I had.